Although only about a hundred of you actually saw it in theaters, you’ve probably heard tons of raves for the Thai martial arts flick Ong-Bak (make up for it now by ordering the DVD RIGHT HERE!).  It made my best of 2004 list, and it features the kind of stunning and brutal stunts (unassisted by wires or CGI) not seen since the heyday of Jackie Chan.

But while lanky star Tony Jaa and director Prachya Pinkaew went off to make Tom Yum Goong (check out the bone-demolishing new trailer for that RIGHT HERE), Ong-Bak’s co-creator and action coordinator kept himself busy with Born To Fight, a similarly old-school chopsockey movie that has almost more cartilage-ripping carnage than can be contained in 95 minutes.

After his partner is killed during a bust, top-notch cop Daew (Dan Chupong) decides to take his mind off it by joining his sister and a sundry group of all-star athletes (gymnast, soccer ace, rugby player, etc.) on a goodwill trip to deliver food and other goodies to a poverty-stricken village outside of Bangkok.  While they’re there, the village suddenly comes under attack by a ruthless mercenary and his well-armed goons, who slaughter several citizens and hold the survivors hostage until the government frees a notorious criminal… the same guy who Daew happened to arrest in the opening scene.  Along with the athletes, Daew (the Thai John McClane, it would seem) and the villagers revolt against their captors, after which everyone and everything is shot, beaten or blasted into moist chunks.

Make no mistake, this is an action movie through and through, which (beyond whatever meager Thai-specific societal and political statements appear in Bay-inspired moments) is the entire point.  Aside from the opening sequence, which features its own jaw-dropping stunts where guys are hurled from moving vehicles only to hit the ground with sickening impact, the movie slows down for 15 or 20 minutes of “character stuff” before kicking into non-stop full-bore mayhem for the remaining 50 minutes.  The story itself is utterly silly, the acting is wretched, and the budget is nominal.  Aesthetically it feels a lot like The Killer-era John Woo (without the doves) or Woo-Ping Yuen’s late-80s work (Tiger Cage, In the Line of Duty 4), stripped down to the bare essentials – copious chaotic gunfights and devastating hand-to-hand combat.  There’s even one sequence of sustained ballistic bloodshed, where Daew battles his way through the village as bad guys pop out of windows and doors Hogan’s Alley-style, that’s all done in a single take lasting well over a minute. 

There are at least a half-dozen other breathtaking “oh shit!” moments in Born To Fight, and everyone gets in on the action – the resident bully, the ladies, the young kids, the old guys… the movie even negates the phrase “useless as a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest”.  Crazy feats of martial gymnastics, insane motorcycle stunts, thousands of rounds of spent ammunition, and some of the most vicious fight scenes ever filmed… even people pounding each other with flaming boards.  Between this movie and Tony Jaa’s punishing handiwork, I’d be surprised if there are any fully functional stuntpeople currently in Thailand.

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